Negativity Bias and Task Motivation: Testing the Effectiveness of Positively versus Negatively Framed Incentives

Goldsmith, Kelly and Ravi Dhar (2013). “Negativity Bias and Task Motivation: Testing the Effectiveness of Positively versus Negatively Framed Incentives,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

10 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2011 Last revised: 21 Jun 2014

Kelly Goldsmith

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management

Ravi Dhar

Yale School of Management - International Center for Finance

Date Written: September 23, 2013

Abstract

People are frequently challenged by goals that demand effort and persistence. As a consequence, philosophers, psychologists, economist and others have studied the factors that enhance task motivation. Using a sample of undergraduate students and a sample of working adults, we demonstrate that the manner in which an incentive is framed has implications for individuals’ task motivation. In both samples we find that individuals are less motivated when an incentive is framed as a means to accrue a gain (positive framing) as compared to when the same incentive is framed as a means to avoid a loss (negative framing). Further, we provide evidence for the role of the negativity bias in this effect, and highlight specific populations for whom positive framing may be least motivating. Interestingly, we find that people’s intuitions about when they will be more motivated show the opposite pattern, with people predicting that positively framed incentives will be more motivating than negatively framed incentives. We identify a lay belief in the positive correlation between enjoyment and task motivation as one possible factor contributing to the disparity between predicted and actual motivation due to the framing of the incentive. We conclude with a discussion of the managerial implications for these findings.

Keywords: negativity bias, motivation, mis-prediction, incentives

Suggested Citation

Goldsmith, Kelly and Dhar, Ravi, Negativity Bias and Task Motivation: Testing the Effectiveness of Positively versus Negatively Framed Incentives (September 23, 2013). Goldsmith, Kelly and Ravi Dhar (2013). “Negativity Bias and Task Motivation: Testing the Effectiveness of Positively versus Negatively Framed Incentives,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1817902 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1817902

Kelly Goldsmith (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/goldsmith/htm/

Ravi Dhar

Yale School of Management - International Center for Finance ( email )

Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

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